Tuesday, June 13, 2006
the eye of the storm - rita and katrina
The South. The Bayou. The Gulf Coast. God's Country. Sportsman's Paradise. A place like no other - LOUISIANA. I wouldn't want to be from anywhere else. I've known it all my life but it just now seems like our little boot-shaped heaven is being introduced to the rest of the world thanks to the visit of two very lovely ladies early last fall. What's weird is that it seems like Hurricane Katriana and Rita just happened and it's already hurricane season once again. Everyone back home is "nerveene" (my mom's word for "nervous").
I had just moved out to Los Angeles two weeks before the big one hit New Orleans. Now, I'm not from New Orleans but anyone from the great state of Louisiana holds that city close to their heart. New Orleans boasts some of the best music, food, and art in the entire world and it has an energy like noplace else on Earth. Heck, still to this day people assume that when I say I'm from "Louisiana" I automatically mean "New Orleans." News flash - there are other cities in the state. Regardless, when I found out that Katrina had devestated this rich and beautiful place my heart fell heavy. As I sat at my desk trying my best to schedule meetings, read scripts, and answer phones, all I could do was think about the French Quarter and surrounding areas being under water. Luckily, most of that area of town was spared massive water damage but the 9th Ward was completely wiped out, as were cities in Mississippi. I had a lot of family who lost their homes in Katrina, along with their summer waterfront home in Bay St. Louis. They, like most everyone there, were forced to evacuate and many of them came over to Lake Charles (my hometown) to stay with my grandparents. They were safe there for about 2 weeks and then...Rita hit.
The approach and eventual strike of Hurricane Rita on my hometown of Lake Charles, LA was documented on my computer as I worked in Los Angeles. Like I said, I had just moved out to LA to work in television and had no way of getting in touch with anyone back home. I, myself, still had a Louisiana cell phone number so no one could call me either. It was a mess. Below I have included what I experienced being here in LA when the storm hit:
September 23, 2005 (Friday)
Hurricane Rita is all over the news. As she swiftly approaches the coast, it seems more and more like Lake Charles is going to be the target. I’m sitting at my desk at work and I feel helpless. I can’t get in touch with my family and I can’t follow what’s going on because I don’t have a TV in my office. My friend Jordan is watching Fox News in her office and giving me updates over instant messenger. I keep running down to her office anytime she says that they mention Lake Charles. I’m glad that they city evacuated in time but it still worries me to think of the possibility of losing my house. My family is dispersed all over the south - South Carolina, Arkansas, Northern Louisiana, Baton Rouge. Cell phone towers are down and my sister doesn’t have a landline. I hate not being able to talk to my family. It’s the worst feeling. In the back of my mind I know that they are OK and they will be OK after the storm passes but you never can say “I love you” too many times. I think that Lynn senses that I am a little preoccupied. She keeps asking if I have talked to my parents. “No,” I say. At the end of the day she made a very kind gesture. She invited me to come home with her and spend time with her and her family. She knew that I needed to be around a family in a time like this, even if it wasn’t my own. So, I gladly took her up on her offer. I left my car at Fox in the parking garage and went over to her apartment. Her husband and kids greeted us at the door and my mind was instantly taken off of the hurricane for the first time all day. We talked, played a board game, ate pizza, and watched TV. It was perfect. I love hanging out with kids. It always puts me in a better mood. I went to bed at about midnight. The Lord only knows what will have happened overnight…
September 24, 2005 (Saturday)
Well, good news and bad news. The good news is that the storm came onto land weaker than expected. The bad new is that it pretty much came right over Lake Charles. I had to wake-up early because Echo, Lynn’s daughter, had to go to a soccer game at 8:00 am. So, like the little dysfunctional family that we were, we all piled into Ricardo’s Saturn and headed to the field. The game was fun even though they didn’t win. It’s always neat seeing people with their families. You get to know whole different side of them. A good side… I still hadn’t heard from my family yet. So frustrating. After the soccer game we grabbed some greasy but delicious Tommy’s Hamburgers and headed back to the apartment. Lynn and Ricardo both said that I could stay as long as I wanted. I sat and watched news footage of the aftermath of Hurricane Rita. Suddenly, there they were – images of my city on the national news. Live reports being beamed through a satellite and through the rain right to the TV in front of me in California. It was the strangest feeling to see places that I know and love being shown in shambles. I felt very helpless. I could tell, though, that the flooding was confined to most of the historic downtown/waterfront area, which was a good thing. My house wasn’t that close. The only thing that really worried me was my grandparents’ house on the lake. I could just picture there beautiful home submerged beneath that cloudy, muddy water. I prayed hard. I left Lynn’s house later in the afternoon, making sure to hug her and tell her how much it meant that she offered up her family for my benefit. I went home to a dark and empty apartment and fell asleep. I woke up to my cell phone ringing by my ear. Was it mom? Was it dad? No. Still no word from my family. It was my friend, Jessi, on the phone calling about our evening plans. She, Haely, and I had decided to go to dinner and then head over to the Bungalow Club on Melrose to wish my co-worker, Jordan, a happy 24th birthday. This would be good for me and once again take my mind off what was going on in Louisiana. I showered, got dressed, and hopped in the car: destination Burbank. On my way there, I was singing very loudly to Sytx’s “Come Sail Away” when my cell phone buzzed. A text message. I expected it to be from Jessi or Haely inquiring about my whereabouts because I was running a few minutes late. To my surprise, it was a text message from my Uncle Bill. “MOM AND DAD ARE OK. HOUSE IS OK. LOVE YOU.” I didn’t have his number programmed in my phone so I had no idea, at first, who had sent me this message. It was weird. Finally, a few minutes later I got a call from my dad. Relief. It was so great to hear his voice. He had been to Lake Charles to check on our house and overall everything was fine. We got pretty lucky. Our fence was gone, trees were uprooted, and some of the roof was messed up but that’s it. My dad tried to go over to Mimi’s house to check on it but he couldn’t make it by car. There were too many trees. He hopped on this 4-wheeler and trudged through the wreckage to get to her place on the lake. The house was fine. No broken windows, which in that house is a miracle. One whole side of the house is a window. Because the house was up on a hill it was spared by the floodwaters. The water level was so high that it reached the roof of the boat dock at the end of the warf. My dad attempted to go and check my other grandmother’s house next but wasn’t successful. The road was completely filled with fallen trees and power lines making the only entrance to her house obsolete. He headed back to Baton Rouge to my mom and sister to report the damage. Other family and friends had also gone into town to check on their homes and properties. Some people weren’t as lucky as we were. Not only were structures crushed by the hurricane, but so were many memories. A tree fell through Miller Flynt’s house AND the roof was torn completely off of his dad’s elegant restaurant, Café Margeaux. It doesn’t make sense that some people get struck so hard by the effects of the storm and others, like us, walk away nearly scott-free.
September 27, 2005 (Tuesday)
I just talked to my dad. He’s in Baton Rouge staying with my sister. I haven’t talked to him since Saturday night. Today’s Tuesday. It’s been hurricane central in Baton Rouge and surrounding Louisiana cities as hurricane evacuees from both Katrina and Rita take refuge with family and friends. My mom said that Lake Charles looks like a war zone. Huge trees have been uprooted exposing massive root systems to the air. Roads are impassable thanks to fallen debris and roughage. Police are guarding all of the entrances into Lake Charles so my parents had to take back roads to find their way into the city yesterday. On many streets there was no way through so they had to stop on the side of the road and walk to their destination. I asked my dad why he wasn’t documenting it; why he wasn’t taking pictures. He told me there’s just no time. “You just have to do what you need to do and get out,” he said. Some of my dad’s friends were helping Mr. Mickey clean up all of the trees that had fallen in his yard and on his house. There was one huge tree that fell right through the roof. Some of the guys were taking chainsaws to the branches on top of the house, trying to clear some sort of pathway. My dad was delivering ice to them in his truck and accidentally backed up over Mr. Mickey’s dog. My dad said it was the last thing he wanted to do – yell up to a man who was removing a huge tree from the middle of his second story and tell him that he had just run over his sixteen-year-old dog. But he had to do it. “It was a hell of a day in Lake Charles,” he said. And that I don’t doubt.
September 29, 2005 (Thursday)
I talked to my mom this morning. It was so great to hear from her. The first words out of her mouth, following her usual “Hey Emmy” were “It’s not good over here.” The phone started breaking up but the signal finally regained strength. My dad is going to Lake Charles today with Uncle Bill and Samuel. He bought a little air-conditioning unit for the window so that they can stay at the house and start working on the damage. My mom told me that the Baton Rouge papers said that it could be as long as a month before residents are allowed to go back to Lake Charles. That’s a long time… I spoke with my sister and she is getting frustrated with my parents staying at her apartment, which is totally understandable. My mom is thinking about coming here to California to visit while my dad works on the house. My sister wants to come here too but not with my mom. Who know…it seems as though someone will end up here at some point. I’d better get out the air mattress. I envy my sister in a way. I wish I could spend some quality time with my family right now. I really miss them. People continue to send me emails telling me that they are thinking and praying for my family. The outpouring of support in times of tragedy is really amazing to me. It gives me a good feeling about humanity.